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Controlled Circumstances, or: Five Times Methos Didn't Meet Duncan MacLeod (and One Time He Did)

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There'd be a nursery rhyme about tonight, one day.

But Duncan didn't know that. He threw his cloak across his face against the smoke and he shoved in a door with his shoulder. Flames spilled out; his cloak smouldered; the part of him that still feared pain flinched back. But he pushed past it and walked into the building. As he did, his sleeves caught fire, but by the time he walked out again, a coughing girl of about five under one arm, the burns had vanished. His clothes were wrecked, anyway - he'd been at this for two days, and the fire showed no sign of letting up. He left the child with her mother and moved on, waving away the woman's thanks. Plenty of people were trapped, and Duncan's ability to help was unique in London, at least right now.

Or so he thought.

He felt it as he barged into the next house: that unmistakable throbbing hum at the base of his skull. Another Immortal, deeper inside the house. The hilt of Duncan's sword was hot to the touch, but put his hand to it and shoved his way through the house, up a rickety, half-burned-away wooden staircase. But by the time he got to the top of the house, the buzz was receding fast.

In a back room, he found an open window. On the floor was a woman, alive, holding a rag over her nose and mouth to protect from the smoke. Next to her, a doctor's bag.

*

Methos heard his ankle break as he hit the ground; that was exactly what he needed. He ran all the same, biting down into his bottom lip against the pain, wanting only to get as far away from the other Immortal as possible. The bones were already knitting; at least his Quickening meant that his ankle would heal right even if he ran on it. A mortal couldn't have counted on the same.

Damn it all.

The pain only lasted for a few steps, but the regret persisted much longer. Poor Lizzie. Another few moments, and they'd both have been out of the house. Another couple of hours and the ship they'd been bound for would launch. A minute ago, the fire had seemed so convenient, a way for them to disappear without Lizzie's father knowing; he'd wanted to show her the world. He'd told her so many stories about China, and she'd wanted so badly to see it for herself.

Now she would burn to death. Another Immortal would only care about the hunt, not the woman left behind. But if Methos lost a challenge, his chances of taking Lizzie or anyone else to China would be... significantly reduced. And he was so old. So tired of fighting. Tired of risking his life.

He ran for the docks. Another Immortal had sensed him; that meant he needed to leave London, with or without Lizzie. Lucky for him, he had passage booked.

*

To Duncan's surprise, the woman sat up of her own accord and said, "Who are you?" in a sharp Cockney voice. The sharpness cut through the rag she still held to her mouth.

"Are you hurt?" Duncan asked her.

She held up her forearm to show him a burn. "It's nothing," she said, and while Duncan wasn't sure it was nothing, he thought she'd live.

"Can you stand?"

She nodded, but none of the suspicion left her face. "I asked who you are," she said.

"Why don't we get you out of here first?"

The woman nodded and stood, bringing the doctor's bag with her. She wouldn't be carried, but she did take Duncan's arm, and he beat a path back to the front door, helping her over the larger gaps in the stairway. Back in the street, in the dispersing smoke, Duncan got a better look at her. She was statuesque and handsome, red hair and hard grey eyes making a compelling combination.

She didn't need to ask his name three times. "I'm Duncan MacLeod of the - " He stopped to cough. "Of the Clan MacLeod. Who are you?"

"Elizabeth Lawson." She looked him over and frowned. "You scared William off."

"William?" Duncan asked. He must have been stupid from too much smoke: obviously William was the Immortal who'd been upstairs when he came in.

"My fiancé," she said, her tone defiant. Duncan wondered if Miss Lawson's parents didn't approve the match. "I don't know who you are, but you're to leave him alone."

She delivered it like an order. Taken aback, Duncan nodded his assent, and Elizabeth Lawson said not another word to him. Barefoot, burned and smoke-stained, doctor's bag in hand, Miss Lawson took off down the narrow street, between fire-ravaged buildings, at a smart pace.

*

Methos wasn't sure why he was so anxious. By rights, he should have been grieving; Lizzie had to be dead. She wouldn't be leaving London with him, or even leaving that house, not under her own power.

And yet Methos found himself pacing the length of the docks, watching the crowd with increasing agitation.

That mood lasted perhaps ten minutes before the inevitable misery descended over him, grey and leaden. This, at least, was familiar. He found a scrap of wall to lean against and threaded his fingers together, then separated them again, watching the unmoving cobbles at his feet. Lizzie was gone. He'd go on to China alone. That knowledge was bitter as smoke in his mouth.

He was still staring at the cobbles when a bag was dropped onto them, almost hitting his feet. Methos stared at it, but it didn't move, and a close examination of its scuffs and scratches led him to believe that it was...

...his...

...bag.

A pair of grubby feet appeared behind the bag.

He looked up. Lizzie's dress, once blue, was now largely black with smoke. Her skin was grubby, too, but her eyes looked as clear and sharp as ever, and she looked equal parts relieved and angry. Methos hesitated for a moment, then threw his arms around her. They clung to each other for several seconds before Lizzie pulled back and fixed him with a stony glare. "You've got some explaining to do."

"I imagine I do at that," said Methos. This would take quick thinking - but it was the kind of quick thinking he'd done many times before. "How did you...?"

"A man came in after you," Lizzie said. "He got me out." Methos frowned; the other Immortal? That marked the man out. Most Immortals wouldn't stop in the middle of the hunt to save a stranger.

He supposed that meant Lizzie had saved his life, in much the same way the other Immortal had saved hers.

"Who was he?"

"Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod," Lizzie said. "Scotsman." The name, Methos thought, made that much obvious.

It was a name he'd remember.